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Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Marriage Decision

My daughter was born in 1994 and never knew a time when interracial marriage was illegal in parts of this country. The generation being born now will never know a time when there was any limitation on consenting adults marrying each other, regardless of their gender. All the predictions of the doomsday right haven't come true in the states where gays and lesbians have been allowed to marry thus far, and they won't in the future, either.

No matter what right-wing politicians promise to pander to their extremist base, this law will never be overturned and no constitutional amendment prohibiting it will be passed. However, that won't stop them from trying to throw roadblocks in its way. Look at how successful they've been in chipping away at women's reproductive rights since Roe v. Wade -- hindering access to abortion providers, limiting when the procedure may be done, insisting on waiting periods, and forcing doctors to inform women of the consequences of their choice (as if they didn't know, and often based on bad science).

They're already doing the same with marriage, using religion as cover for their homophobic bigotry, passing laws at the state level that permit businesses and employees to refuse to serve gays and lesbians simply by claiming their morality is offended. We can only hope that in the decades to come, popular support for the right to marry will continue to increase, the bigot population will decrease, and those roadblocks will fall away.

In the meantime, think of the lesson being taught by this ruling to young Americans struggling with their sexuality. As little as 20 years ago in some parts of this country (e.g. the Bible Belt), to come out publicly as gay was to invite the scorn of your family, community, friends, and employer. That hatred, bred by religious prejudice, drove lots of young homosexual men and women to pretend to be something they weren't -- or even, in too many cases, suicide.

While that veil of of anti-LGBT bigotry hasn't been lifted completely -- any more than racism ended when we elected an African-American president -- it brings hope to a large population. It also validates the relationships of gay and lesbian couples who were already living their lives together, by giving them the same state-sanctioned approval and benefits that we heterosexuals have enjoyed forever. Seeing rainbow flags being raised in the same week the Confederate flags were being lowered was a wonderful civil rights bonus.

I wrote a column about same-sex marriage in March, 2004, at a time when then-president George W. Bush was pressing for a federal marriage amendment. I wrote about how many major corporations were offering same-sex partner benefits to their employees, and addressed the talking points that opponents of marriage equality were using (and are still invoking 11 years later):
Some of it is as simple as, "you just don't understand that what's wrong is wrong." My reply is that we have different definitions of what's wrong. Others are opposed on religious grounds, which is fine, but in this country, we don't play majority rule with religion.

Another e-mailer wrote, "I don't want my children growing up and thinking there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle, which is chosen and not cast upon by birth! This is what's wrong with the world today! No one has any morals anymore. Seems like every other TV show today has a gay on it. These people can go back to the closet as far as I'm concerned!"

Frankly, you can't have a rational conversation with anyone who refers to any group as "these people." That phrase harkens back to so many previous battles over prejudice, including not so long ago when interracial marriage was a touchy subject. However, I did ask this guy one question -- if being gay is a choice, then not being gay is the other choice, so at what point in your life did you make that specific decision? Was there a day, maybe in your teens, when you could have gone either way, being attracted to either someone of your sex or the opposite sex, and consciously chose to be heterosexual?

He didn't answer.

One of my other questions, to which no opponent of gay marriage has come up with a logical, reasoned answer, is: when you say "allowing gays to marry will destroy the institution of marriage," what does that mean? It's a cute catch phrase, guaranteed to rally the already-converted, I'm sure, but what exactly will the implications be? Would straight couples stop getting married? Will more currently-married couples begin getting divorced? Will it lead to a national outbreak of adultery?

Then there's this one, from another e-mailer: "Human reproduction would stop if we were all gay." Of course, no one is suggesting that we should all be gay, but this is part of the "marriage is about procreation" argument. That's another fallacy.

Marriage -- in legal terms -- is not about procreation. No law requires that a married couple produce offspring, nor is their union voided if they don't, nor do you have to be married to have a child. If you're only going to allow people who will procreate to marry, you must force couples to take a fertility test along with their blood test, and make them sign a document swearing that they will have at least one child.

While you're at it, you also have to stop licensing the marriage of every post-menopausal woman! Not very likely, is it?

Gay marriage will be a hot-button political issue for pundits and politicians to scream about in this election year, but the real bottom line is that most Americans don't care. Sure, they'll express an opinion (evenly divided nationally) when asked directly by a pollster, but they're much too busy with what's going on in their own private lives to worry about what other people are doing with theirs -- and wish politicans would address more important issues.

Let's be honest. If anyone is responsible for "weakening the institution of marriage," it is us, the heterosexuals. We're the ones who make hit shows out of "The Bachelorette," "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé," and who can forget Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger on "Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?"

We're also the ones who allow teenagers to marry. There are many places in the US where you can legally marry at age 16. Sixteen! We're all still idiots at that age, not yet familiar with the harsh realities of the adult world. At 16, you can't enter into most other legally binding agreements, yet you can get a marriage license (in Alabama, until 2003, the minimum age for marriage was fourteen -- you were so young you had to have someone else drive you to the ceremony!).

How can we tell high school kids they can enter this "institution," but a lesbian couple in their forties that's been together for years and years that they can't?
In that column, I predicted that right-wing attempts to keep LGBT Americans from marrying probably wouldn't last much more than a decade. Okay, I was off by fifteen months.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy used this phrase: "equal dignity in the eyes of the law." Not only should be the standard in all judicial decisions, it should have been applied to this matter a long time ago.

One more thing. In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage.” Wrong! The "people" do not have a constitutional right to decide which civil rights are lawful and which are not. We don't decide freedom of speech by majority rule. You can't vote to segregate blacks from whites. You can't vote to deny women the right to work. These are core human rights, and so is the right to marry anyone you love.